Substitute for Barbecue Sauce: Tasty Alternatives You Need to Try

Barbecue sauce is a beloved condiment that adds a perfect blend of sweet, tangy, and smoky flavor to any grilled or smoked food. Whether you’re marinating meat, basting it on the grill, or simply using it as a dipping sauce, it can elevate any dish. However, there might be circumstances where you’re out of barbecue sauce or simply want to explore different flavors. In such situations, you may be looking for a suitable barbecue sauce substitute.

Substitute for Barbecue Sauce: Tasty Alternatives You Need to Try

Several sauces and condiments can be used as effective substitutes for barbecue sauce, maintaining the essence of flavors while bringing diversity to your dishes. From store-bought options like Worcestershire sauce, hoisin sauce, and ketchup to homemade concoctions utilizing brown sugar, garlic powder, and chili powder, there is a wide range of alternatives available.

In this article, we’ll delve into the various substitutes for barbecue sauce and examine their unique flavor profiles, ideal usage, and how they can complement different types of dishes. By understanding these alternatives, you’ll be able to broaden your culinary horizons and find new ways to deliver unforgettable taste experiences.

Why Substitute for Barbecue Sauce

Different Flavor Profiles

One of the primary reasons people look for substitutes for barbecue sauce is to explore different flavor profiles. Traditional barbecue sauce is known for its sweet, tangy, and smoky taste, which might not always cater to everyone’s preference. By using substitutes like Worcestershire sauce, hoisin sauce, or teriyaki sauce, you can introduce new flavors to your dishes while retaining the essence of a good sauce.

Dietary Restrictions

Another reason to substitute barbecue sauce is to accommodate dietary restrictions. Some prepared barbecue sauces may contain allergens, high levels of sugar, or even gluten, which might not be suitable for those following specific diets. Substitutes such as homemade sauces or vinegar-based sauces can provide alternative options for individuals with dietary limitations.


Barbecue sauce might not always be readily available in every location. Depending on where you are, certain sauces or brands may be unavailable, or the selection might be limited. In such cases, finding a substitute becomes necessary. Using ingredients like ketchup, honey mustard, or even plum sauce can help you create a suitable alternative to serve with your meal.

Personal Preferences

Lastly, personal preferences play a significant role in choosing a substitute for barbecue sauce. Some people might find traditional barbecue sauce too overpowering or too sweet, while others may want to experiment with new flavors or create custom sauces. By using a variety of substitute options, you are able to tailor the taste to your palate and create a unique dining experience.

Remember, flavor is an essential aspect of any dish, and experimenting with substitutes for barbecue sauce allows you to diversify and expand your culinary creativity.

Tomato-Based Substitutes


Ketchup is a simple and convenient option for a barbecue sauce substitute. It provides sweetness from corn syrup and acidity from tomatoes and vinegar. To create a barbecue-like flavor, you can enhance ketchup with additional ingredients such as:

  • Brown sugar or molasses for a caramel note
  • Minced garlic and onion for depth of flavor
  • Vinegar to adjust acidity

Here’s a basic recipe to turn ketchup into a barbecue sauce substitute:

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes.

Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce may also be used as an alternative in place of barbecue sauce. It shares a similar tomato base, but it lacks the sweetness and smokiness typically found in barbecue sauce. To mimic those flavors, you can add various ingredients:

  • Brown sugar or honey for sweetness
  • Liquid smoke or smoked paprika for smokiness
  • Onion powder and garlic powder for seasoning

Follow this quick recipe:

  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar or honey
  • 1-2 teaspoons liquid smoke or smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is another option for a barbecue sauce substitute, although it’s more concentrated than ketchup or tomato sauce. To achieve a similar consistency to barbecue sauce, you can combine the tomato paste with vinegar and brown sugar. As a basic guideline, try the following recipe:

  • 1/2 cup of tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • Optional: minced garlic and onion, as desired

Keep in mind that the ratio of ingredients can be adjusted to suit your taste preferences. Experiment with the recipes until you find the flavor that matches the barbecue taste you’re seeking.

Asian-Inspired Substitutes

In this section, we will explore several Asian-inspired substitutes for barbecue sauce, including Hoisin Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Plum Sauce, and Japanese-Style sauce. These alternatives add unique flavors from Asian cuisine to your dishes while still providing the savory and tangy notes you expect from a BBQ sauce.

Hoisin Sauce

Hoisin sauce is a thick, fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is made from soybean paste, garlic, vinegar, and various spices, offering a sweet and tangy taste that can work well as a substitute for BBQ sauce. Use hoisin sauce for marinades, dipping sauces, or glazing grilled meats.

Key ingredients in Hoisin Sauce:

  • Soybean paste
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Sugar

Teriyaki Sauce

Teriyaki sauce is another popular choice for those looking for an alternative to barbecue sauce. This Japanese sauce is made from soy sauce, sake (or mirin), sugar, and sometimes ginger. With its sweet and savory profile, teriyaki sauce can be a versatile replacement for BBQ sauce in various dishes, including grilled and stir-fried meats or vegetables.

Key ingredients in Teriyaki Sauce:

  • Soy sauce
  • Sake (or mirin)
  • Sugar
  • Ginger (optional)

Plum Sauce

Plum sauce, another Asian-inspired option, originates from Chinese cuisine but has gained popularity in other culinary traditions. This sweet and tangy sauce is made from plums, sugar, vinegar, and spices, offering a fruity twist to your BBQ dishes. Use plum sauce as a glaze for ribs or grilled chicken, or even as a dipping sauce for spring rolls or dumplings.

Key ingredients in Plum Sauce:

  • Plums
  • Sugar
  • Vinegar
  • Spices


Japanese-style barbecue sauce, also known as “Yakiniku sauce,” combines elements from both teriyaki and hoisin sauces, incorporating soy sauce, sake, mirin, sugar, and ginger. This sauce often includes additional ingredients like garlic, sesame oil, and chili, enhancing its flavor profile. Use Japanese-style sauce as a marinade or dipping sauce for grilled meats or vegetables.

Key ingredients in Japanese-Style Sauce:

  • Soy sauce
  • Sake
  • Mirin
  • Sugar
  • Ginger

These Asian-inspired substitutes for barbecue sauce add unique and exciting flavors to your culinary creations while maintaining the essence of traditional BBQ dishes. Experiment with these alternatives to find the perfect Asian twist for your next barbecued masterpiece.

Mustard-Based Substitutes

Mustard Sauce

A tangy mustard sauce is a unique twist on traditional barbecue sauces, adding an extra layer of flavor to your dishes. This condiment combines tart mustard and the addition of savory spices together for a bold taste. The texture may vary from creamy to slightly more coarse depending on the type of mustard used in the sauce. A simple recipe to create your own mustard sauce includes:

  • Tart mustard (base)
  • Sugar for sweetness
  • Vinegar for tang
  • Seasonings and herbs for added flavor

Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard is another option you can consider as a substitute for barbecue sauce. With its sharp and distinct flavor, it can provide a similar depth to your dishes. To create a Dijon-based sauce, you may include:

  • Dijon mustard/base
  • Sugar or honey for adding sweetness
  • Vinegar (apple cider, white wine, or another kind) for tang
  • Seasonings, to taste

Mix these ingredients together and adjust the proportions according to your preference.

Mustard-Based BBQ Sauce

Mustard-based BBQ sauce builds off the flavors of mustard, sugar, vinegar, and other seasonings to create a tangy and delicious alternative to classic barbecue sauce. To make this sauce, combine the following ingredients:

  • Mustard (yellow or Dijon) as a base
  • Sugar or honey for sweetness
  • Vinegar for tang (apple cider vinegar is popular)
  • Worcestershire sauce for added depth
  • Seasonings and herbs to taste (paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, etc.)

Experiment with the proportions and ingredients to achieve the flavor profile that suits your taste. Mustard-based BBQ sauce goes particularly well with grilled meats and vegetables and adds distinctive character to your dishes.

Alternative Sauce Substitutes

While there are many options to consider as substitutes for barbecue sauce, this section focuses on three specific alternatives: Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, and white sauce. Each offers a distinct flavor profile that may make it a suitable replacement in various recipes.

Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce is a versatile and flavorful condiment made from a mixture of fermented malt vinegar, molasses, anchovies, garlic, onion, and various spices. Its tangy, savory, and slightly sweet taste can provide a unique alternative to barbecue sauce in recipes where a lighter, less smoky flavor is desired.

To use Worcestershire sauce as a substitute for barbecue sauce, simply mix it with a few dashes of pepper and some minced garlic and onion. This combination will help enhance the flavor and create a more balanced taste. Worcestershire sauce can be used in marinades, basting sauces, or as a dipping sauce for grilled or roasted meats.

Steak Sauce

Steak sauce, like A1 or HP sauce, is a thick, tangy, and slightly sweet condiment often used to enhance the flavor of grilled or roasted meats. This sauce can be a suitable substitute for barbecue sauce due to its bold flavor and similar consistency.

To use steak sauce as a barbecue sauce substitute, you may want to experiment with different combinations of ingredients. Try adding some spices or additional condiments to achieve a flavor profile that works well with your specific recipe. Steak sauce can be used in marinades, basting sauces, or as a finishing sauce for meats and vegetables.

White Sauce

White sauce, also known as Alabama white sauce, is a creamy, tangy alternative to traditional barbecue sauce. It is made from a base of mayonnaise, vinegar, and various spices. The use of mayo as the primary ingredient gives this sauce a unique, velvety texture, while the vinegar adds tanginess, making it a flavorful and versatile option.

To make your own white sauce for use as a barbecue sauce substitute, simply combine mayo, vinegar, and a choice of spices such as garlic, pepper, and onion powder. Adjust the proportions to suit your taste preferences. White sauce works well as a dipping sauce, drizzled over grilled meats, or even used as a salad dressing.

Sweet Substitutes


Honey is a versatile and natural sweetener that works well as a barbecue sauce substitute. It adds a rich, caramelized flavor to dishes and can be mixed with other ingredients like vinegar and spices to create a unique and delicious sauce. Its thick, sticky consistency makes it perfect for coating meats and vegetables during grilling or baking.


Molasses is another excellent sweet substitute for barbecue sauce. Its deep, rich flavor adds a touch of sweetness to dishes without being overly sweet. It can be combined with other ingredients, such as vinegar, mustard, and spices, to create a well-rounded sauce. Molasses, being a byproduct of sugar production, also contains trace minerals that add depth to its taste.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is a common ingredient in many barbecue sauces, and its caramel-like sweetness makes it a suitable substitute. When mixed with vinegar, tomato paste, and other spices, brown sugar helps create a balanced, sweet, and tangy flavor profile. This combination can be easily adjusted to suit personal preferences, allowing for a customized barbecue sauce alternative.


Fruits, such as pineapple juice, provide a fresh and sweet alternative to traditional barbecue sauce. Mixing pineapple juice with other ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, and garlic creates a Hawaiian-style sauce that is both sweet and tangy. Other fruit options could include apple, mango, or cherry as a base for innovative and refreshing barbecue sauce substitutes.

Root Beer

As an unconventional choice, root beer can be a surprising and flavorful sweet substitute for barbecue sauce. The complex mixture of herbs, spices, and sweeteners present in root beer helps to create a distinctive taste when used as a marinade or sauce base. This option can be combined with other ingredients to create a unique and delicious root beer barbecue sauce, perfect for experimenting with different flavors in your grilling ventures.

Spicy Substitutes

When it comes to adding some heat to your dishes, there are plenty of spicy substitutes for barbecue sauce that can pack a punch. In this section, we’ll discuss three popular options: Chili Garlic Sauce, Red Pepper Flakes, and Hot Sauce.

Chili Garlic Sauce

Chili garlic sauce is an excellent substitute for barbecue sauce, as it combines the heat of chilies with the pungent flavor of garlic. Made from a blend of crushed chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt, this sauce can provide a fiery kick to your meals. You can also adjust the level of spiciness by controlling the amount used in your dish. A common addition to Asian cuisine, chili garlic sauce can add both heat and depth to your recipes.

  • Ingredients: Crushed chilies, garlic, vinegar, and salt
  • How to use: Add to marinades, mix into sauces, or use as a dipping sauce

Red Pepper Flakes

Red pepper flakes are a versatile way to introduce heat into your dishes in place of barbecue sauce. These crushed chilies typically come from the seeds and flakes of sun-dried cayenne peppers, which can provide varying levels of heat. They can easily be sprinkled onto your dish or incorporated into marinades and sauces to provide a spicy twist.

  • Ingredients: Sun-dried cayenne pepper seeds and flakes
  • How to use: Sprinkle on top of dishes or mix into marinades and sauces

Hot Sauce

Another spicy alternative to barbecue sauce is hot sauce. Available in a wide range of flavors and heat levels, hot sauce can be made from various ingredients such as chili powder, chilies, vinegar, and additional spices. Depending on your preference, you can choose a hot sauce that packs a punch or opt for a milder option that still adds a depth of flavor to your dishes.

  • Ingredients: Chili powder, chilies, vinegar, and various spices
  • How to use: Drizzle on top of dishes, mix into marinades, or use as a dipping sauce

By experimenting with these spicy substitutes, you can find the perfect balance of heat and flavor for your meals without relying on traditional barbecue sauce.

Savory Substitutes

Dry Spice Rub

A dry spice rub is a versatile and flavorful alternative to barbecue sauce. It typically combines a mix of spices that are rubbed onto the surface of the meat before grilling or smoking. A common dry spice rub combination for a savory taste includes:

  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Black pepper

To give your rub a unique twist, you can also experiment with additional spices such as allspice or sassafras. Spread the rub evenly over your choice of meat, and keep in mind that the longer the meat marinates in the rub, the more intense the flavors will be.


Marinades are another way to add flavor to your meat without using barbecue sauce. A marinade is a liquid mixture in which the meat is soaked before cooking. It can be as simple as olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings, or more complex like a blend of soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. For a barbecue-inspired marinade, consider the following ingredients:

  • Dijon mustard
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Black pepper
  • Liquid smoke (optional, for a smoky flavor)

Remember to allow your meat to marinate for a few hours or, if possible, overnight for the best results.


Rubs, like dry spice rubs, are mixtures of spices that are applied to the surface of the meat before cooking. The difference between a dry spice rub and a rub is that the latter may have wet ingredients such as oil, mustard, or liquid smoke. A simple rub recipe could include:

  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Paprika
  • Dijon mustard
  • Black pepper

Experiment with different combinations to find the right balance of flavors for your dish. Like dry spice rubs, the longer the meat is left to marinate in the rub, the deeper the flavors will infuse.

Homemade BBQ Sauce Variations

If you are looking for a more personalized twist on barbecue sauce, consider creating your own homemade sauce variations. Tailor the ingredients and flavors to your preference, and consider using some of the substitutes mentioned earlier in this section. Some inspiration to get you started:

  • Teriyaki sauce based BBQ sauce: Add a touch of soy sauce, ginger, and brown sugar to a base of teriyaki sauce.
  • Honey-garlic sauce based BBQ sauce: Mix honey, minced garlic, and a bit of soy sauce to create a sweet and savory flavor profile.
  • Mustard sauce based BBQ sauce: Combine Dijon mustard with ketchup, honey, apple cider vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce for a tangy and versatile sauce.

Remember that the key to a successful homemade sauce lies in experimentation and adjusting to personal taste preferences.

Enhancing Substitutes for Depth of Flavor

Acidity Alternatives

A key component of barbecue sauce is acidity, which can be substituted with various ingredients:

  • Vinegar: Use apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar for a tangy, sweet touch. Both choices complement tomato-based sauces well.
  • Lemon Juice: A few tablespoons of lemon juice in a homemade barbecue sauce can give it a pleasant, zesty twist.

Seasonings and Spices

Enhance the flavor of barbecue sauce substitutes by incorporating a combination of seasonings and spices. Some options include:

  • Salt: A touch of salt can amplify the overall flavor of your sauce.
  • Herbs: Fresh or dried herbs like thyme, oregano, parsley, or basil can add depth to your sauce.
  • Onions: Sauteed or chopped onions offer sweetness and a slightly sharp flavor for a rich, complex substitute.

Adding Smokiness

To replicate the iconic smoky flavor of barbecue sauce, consider using these ingredients:

  • Liquid Smoke: Available in varieties such as mesquite, applewood, and hickory, liquid smoke adds a strong smoky taste that can be combined with another sauce or spice rub.
  • Smoked Paprika: This spice imparts a balanced warmth and smokiness, making it a fitting addition to your sauce substitute.

Adding Umami

Umami, or savory taste, is a crucial element of barbecue sauce’s unique flavor. Here are some suggestions for infusing umami into your substitute:

  • White Sauce: Typically made with mayonnaise, vinegar, and seasonings, white barbecue sauce offers a different flavor than traditional tomato-based sauces, while still providing a rich umami taste.
  • Sesame Paste: Adding a small amount of sesame paste, like tahini, to your sauce can deliver an unexpected umami depth.

Remember to keep ingredient proportions balanced and adjust them to your personal taste preferences. Experimenting with these suggestions should help you create a delicious, satisfying barbecue sauce substitute.

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